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					4/9/07




             FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

                    CHILD SUPPORT CASES

         BRISTOL PROBATE AND FAMILY COURT

                         FALL RIVER, MA




   Bristol County Juvenile Court - Fall River Division (shown above);
          DOR hears all child support cases at 289 Rock Street


                             Prepared by:
                  The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
                        Department of Revenue
                  Child Support Enforcement Division




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                    Topic Index
            Child Support Court Hearings
            Frequently Asked Questions

    1.   Pre-court hearing information
           See questions: 1 - 6


    2.   Courthouse information (location, lunch,
         bathrooms, Clerk’s office)
            See questions: 7 – 10


    3.   Check-in information
            See questions: 11 - 16


    4.   Court hearing information
           See questions: 17 - 22


    5.   Courtroom procedures and judge’s decision
           See questions: 23 – 25


    6.   Visitation and custody information
           See question: 26


    7.   Payment information
           See questions: 27 – 29


    8.   Contempt information
           See questions: 30 – 33


    9. Paternity information
           See questions: 34 – 44




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Frequently Asked Questions when your child support case is scheduled
         for Bristol Probate and Family Court, Fall River, MA

    Pre-court hearing information:

    1.   Someone just dropped off a Complaint and Summons at my house;
         did I miss a court date?

         No. These documents inform you of an action against you. Keep these
         documents as your record of what is on file with the court. Although you are
         not required to file a response, we believe it is a good idea to do so.

         NOTE: If the documents you receive order you to court on a contempt
         action, expect to be asked to pay a significant portion of your past due child
         support (arrears.)

    2.   Why does a constable have to serve the parent with papers?

         Court rules require service of process of the summons either by (1) in-hand
         personal service or (2) leaving a copy at the parent’s “last and usual place of
         abode” (last known address), followed by mailing a copy through the United
         States Postal Service.

    3.   Will DOR represent me or do I need to hire a lawyer?

         DOR does not represent either party. DOR attorneys represent the
         Commonwealth’s interest in ensuring that children are supported by their
         parents by obtaining child support and medical support orders.




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         Either party may retain private counsel but neither party is required to do so.
         If you need legal advice, we recommend that you speak to an attorney of
         your choosing or the “attorney of the day” in the courthouse, prior to your
         scheduled hearing date.

    4.   If I go to court on my child support case without a DOR
         representative present at my hearing, what do I need to know?

         You must notify DOR whenever you go to court seeking a modification or
         contempt, an arrears adjustment or any other court action that affects your
         child support case and a DOR representative is not present at the hearing.
         After the court makes a decision, it is your responsibility to send all
         information to DOR that you receive from the court so that we can update
         our records.

         If you fail to notify us, we will not know about any changes to your case that
         may affect either the payments you make, the payments you receive, or
         arrears balances owed on your case.

    5.   Do I need to bring any paperwork with me to court for my court
         hearing?

         Yes. You will get a Financial Statement form with a letter from DOR about
         your court hearing. You must fill out every line on this form and bring it with
         you to court; otherwise you will need to fill out another Financial Statement
         form when you come to court. If an item on the form does not apply to you,
         enter zero. If you are working, bring copies of current payroll stubs and
         income information from the preceding year.

         If you have applied for or currently receive Social Security benefits or you
         have medical or disability issues that impact your ability to work full or part
         time, you need to bring all your information with you to court that states the
         current status of your claim or the current status of your medical condition.

    6.   Can I bring my children with me to court?

         The courthouse is not a place for children. Therefore, we strongly advise
         that you make day care arrangements for your children since you may be in
         court all day. If you must bring children with you to court, keep in mind that
         children cannot come in the courtroom with you.

         If you are scheduled to come to court for paternity testing, you need to bring
         the child who is going to be tested with you, along with appropriate snacks
         and toys for the child. If this is your first time coming to court on a paternity
         complaint, there is a strong possibility that you will be tested the same day.

         (Please refer to questions 34 – 44 for paternity testing information.)




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    Courthouse information (location, lunch, bathrooms,
    Clerk’s office):
    7.    Where is the Fall River session of the Bristol Probate and Family
          Court located?

          The Bristol Probate and Family Court is located on 289 Rock Street, Fall
          River, Massachusetts.

    8.    What time is lunch?

          We suggest that you eat before arriving at the courthouse. You may wish to
          bring a sandwich with you. No food or beverages are allowed in the
          courthouse.

          DOR will notify you when the court is in recess for lunch. Lunch is at 1:00
          p.m. If your case has not been heard before the recess occurs, please do
          not leave the courthouse since DOR continues to conference cases while the
          court is in recess. DOR will notify you when the judge returns from recess.

    9.    Where are the bathrooms located?

          The bathrooms are located on the 4th floor. When exiting the elevator, turn
          right. Turn right again and the ladies room is on your left. When exiting the
          elevator, walk across the lobby. The mens room is on your right after the
          stairs.

          If you take the stairs to the 3rd floor, turn left when standing at the top of the
          stairs. Walk straight ahead and the ladies room is on your left. If you turn
          right at the top of the stairs, the mens room is on your right.

    10.   Where do I go if I want to file paperwork for a modification or
          contempt or to get copies of my court order?

          You must go to the Clerk’s office located on the 3rd floor when filing forms,
          filling out forms, or requesting copies of court orders regarding your child
          support case.

          When filing paperwork or forms with the Clerk’s office, make sure you inform
          the staff at the Clerk’s office that this is a DOR case, as information the
          Clerk’s office receives about your case must be forwarded to DOR.

          DO NOT come to DOR’s office to file forms, fill out forms, or get copies of
          court orders.




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    Check-in information:
    11.   What time do I need to be in court?

          The letter you receive from DOR will tell you the date and time to arrive at
          the courthouse. A court hearing is a formal proceeding, so remember to
          dress appropriately. Do not wear t-shirts, shorts, tank tops, etc.

    12.   Once I get to the courthouse, where do I go?

          When you arrive at the courthouse, you will have to pass through security.
          Once you go through security, turn right and take the elevator to the 4th
          floor. You may also walk straight ahead and take the stairs to the 4th floor.

          If you take the elevator to the 4th floor, turn right. Turn right again and go
          through the double doors where you will see DOR’s check-in table. If you
          take the stairs to the 4th floor, turn left at the top of the stairs and walk
          straight ahead. Go through the double doors where you will see DOR’s
          check-in table.

          DOR’s office is located on the 3rd floor. If you take the elevator to the 3rd
          floor, turn right. Turn right again and go through the double doors. DOR’s
          office is on your left. If you take the stairs to the 3rd floor, turn left at the top
          of the stairs and walk straight ahead. Go through the double doors and
          DOR’s office is on your left.

    13.   Do I need to let DOR know that I have arrived?

          Yes. You must identify yourself to DOR staff when you check-in.

    14.   Will I need to fill out any forms when I arrive at court?

          Yes. You will have to fill out another Financial Statement form if you do not
          bring the completed Financial Statement form that was mailed to you.

          You will also need to fill out a Notice of Appearance form. If so, when filling
          out this form, be sure to circle whether you are the plaintiff, the defendant or
          “myself”. Do not fill out this form if you have an attorney representing you.

    15.   What happens after I check-in?

          A DOR staff member will meet with you and discuss your case. DOR staff
          may meet with you and the other parent together. If you have safety
          concerns related to the other parent, let DOR staff know and they will meet
          with you separately.




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          If you and the other party in the case reach an agreement before your case
          is called, let DOR know, and DOR staff will assist you with putting your
          agreement in writing. Once your agreement is in writing and you sign it, you
          may not have to stay to see the judge. The DOR staff will let you know if
          you can leave.

          If you and the other party do not reach an agreement, you have a right to go
          before the judge and the judge will make a decision. (DOR will usually make
          a recommendation to the judge.) Both parents will have an opportunity to
          speak to the judge and ask for what they believe is appropriate.

    16.   What happens if the other parent doesn’t show up?

          If the other parent in the action does not come to court on the day of the
          hearing, DOR will still discuss your case with you and decide whether the
          matter will go forward. In most cases, the case will go forward, with or
          without the other parent.

    Court hearing information:
    17.   When will the judge hear my case?

          DOR cannot control when a judge will hear your case, so it is possible that
          you may be at the courthouse all day. Since you may be in court all day, if
          you have children in school, please make arrangements to have someone
          pickup your children from school.

          If you and the other party in the case reach an agreement before your case
          is called, let DOR know and staff will assist you with putting your agreement
          in writing. Once your agreement is in writing and you sign it, you will usually
          be permitted to leave the courthouse after you receive copies of your
          agreement.

          Occasionally, a judge may require that an agreement between the parties
          (also referred to as a “Stipulation”) go before the court for approval. If this
          happens, you cannot leave the courthouse until the judge has heard your
          case.

    18.   What do I do if I need to leave the courthouse for a brief time
          before the judge hears my case?

          Please notify DOR staff if you need to leave the courthouse so your case is
          not called while you are away. If you don’t tell DOR that you need to leave
          the courthouse, your case may be called before the judge and the judge may
          make a decision in your absence.




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    19.   What happens if the judge does not get to my case?

          Although it rarely happens, a case can be removed from DOR’s court list (this
          means the case is taken “off list.”) If this happens with your case, DOR will
          reschedule your court hearing.

    20.   What’s a docket number?

          A docket number is a tracking code that identifies your court record by
          category, year and number. Your court record contains your court papers,
          and the court files your record by docket number.

    21.   What’s a docket check?

          A docket check is a review of the file on your court case. When DOR does a
          docket check on your case, they do so to ensure a proposed case action is
          correct.

    22.   What if the other parent harasses or threatens me at court?

          Notify court officers and DOR staff immediately so appropriate action can be
          taken to protect you.

    Courtroom procedures and judge’s decision:
    23.   What should I do when my case is called before the judge?

          DOR will call your name when the judge is ready to hear your case. Before
          entering the courtroom, you must turn off all cell phones and pagers. When
          entering or leaving the courtroom, please be quiet since other cases may be
          scheduled before and after your case.

          Until your case is called, you must remain quiet and seated in the courtroom.
          Only the parties to the action will face the judge. Once your case is called,
          you will stand and face the judge. If the judge asks you a question, you may
          answer the judge; otherwise you may speak only at the judge’s request or
          with the judge’s permission. Do not speak directly to a party or attorney
          while before the judge. When the judge or the other party before the judge
          is speaking, do not interrupt. If an attorney is representing you, your
          attorney will speak for you to the judge.

    24.   When will the judge make a decision on my case?

          In most cases, the judge will tell you the decision at the end of the hearing.
          The court will send you a copy of the judge’s written decision or order a few
          days later.




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    25.   If the judge takes my case “under advisement,” what does that
          mean?

          Occasionally, a judge will take a case “under advisement.” This means that a
          decision on your case will be made at a later date and the court will notify
          you when the judge has made a decision.


    Visitation and custody information:
    26.   Can DOR help me with visitation or custody issues?

          No. DOR can help you with actions related to paternity establishment and
          the establishment, enforcement, or modification of child and medical support
          orders, but cannot assist with visitation or custody issues. If both parties are
          available and present at the courthouse, the court’s Probation Office staff
          (also referred to as Family Services Office) can offer assistance on visitation
          and custody issues. However, if you already have an agreement about
          visitation and custody issues, DOR staff will assist you with putting your
          agreement in writing.

          The Probation Office area is located on the 3rd floor of the courthouse. To
          get to the Probation Office area, turn right when exiting the elevator. Turn
          right again, go through the double doors and the Probation Office is directly
          ahead. If you take the stairs to the 3rd floor, turn left at the top of the stairs
          and walk straight ahead. Go through the double doors and the Probation
          Office is directly ahead.


    Payment information:
    27.   When a judge orders me to make child support payments by a wage
          assignment, where do I send my child support payments until the
          payroll deduction is taken out of my check?

          Since it can take several weeks for an employer to start a payroll deduction
          (wage assignment) for child support, you must pay DOR directly until you
          see the payroll deduction in your check. DO NOT make direct payments to
          the other parent because we will not know about it, our records will indicate
          that you did not pay and we may take enforcement actions such as seizing
          bank accounts, tax refunds and insurance settlements.

          When sending a child support payment to DOR, use our payment stub and
          envelope. If paying by check or money order, always include your Social
          Security number. You can request payment stubs at the courthouse or you




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          can download copies of payment stubs and information from our website at
          www.mass.gov/cse.

          Note: It takes 1 – 2 business days for a payment to be credited to your
          account.

    28.   How do I make payments when the other parent no longer receives
          public assistance?

          When the other parent closes public assistance, the child support remains
          payable to DOR so you must pay DOR directly. DO NOT make direct
          payments to the other parent because we will not know about it, our records
          will indicate that you did not pay and we may take enforcement actions such
          as license suspension, seizing bank accounts, tax refunds and insurance
          settlements.

          When sending a child support payment to DOR, use our payment stub and
          envelope. If paying by check or money order, always include your Social
          Security number. You can request payment stubs at the courthouse or you
          can download copies of payment stubs and information from our website at
          www.mass.gov/cse.

    29.   How do I make payments when the other parent receives public
          assistance?

          When the other parent receives public assistance, the child support remains
          payable to DOR so you must pay DOR directly. DO NOT make direct
          payments to the other parent because we will not know about it, our records
          will indicate that you did not pay and we may take enforcement actions such
          as license suspension, seizing bank accounts, tax refunds and insurance
          settlements.

          When sending a child support payment to DOR, use our payment stub and
          envelope. If paying by check or money order, always include your Social
          Security number. You can request payment stubs at the courthouse or you
          can download copies of payment stubs and information from our website at
          www.mass.gov/cse.

    Contempt information:
    30.   Can I get the parent arrested if the parent doesn’t come to court
          and/or stops paying child support?

          No, you can’t have the parent arrested if he or she doesn’t pay child support
          or does not come to court. DOR uses civil law to enforce child support
          orders. However, if the parent does not appear at your contempt hearing
          the court may issue a capias to order the parent to appear before the court.
          A capias is a bench warrant that orders the parent brought before the court.


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          If your case is appropriate for contempt, DOR will file a civil contempt
          complaint after the parent fails to respond to enforcement programs such as
          license suspension. DOR will notify you when a contempt hearing is
          scheduled.

          At the contempt hearing, a court can order the parent to make a lump sum
          payment, and the court may order the parent held in custody until payment
          is made (see question 31.)

    31.   In a contempt action, if I am incarcerated and the judge orders me
          to pay a “purge amount”, what does this mean?

          During a contempt hearing, a judge can order that you be incarcerated for
          failure to comply with the court’s order to pay child support. If a judge
          orders that you be incarcerated, the judge will set the amount you must pay
          before you can be released. This is known as the “purge amount.” The
          amount is based on the judge’s assessment of your ability to pay.

    32.   How can I find out if and when the other parent is released from
          jail?

          Contact the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth at
          (508) 995-6400. If the parent pays the purge amount he or she can be
          released without notice to you or DOR.

    33.   The person I came to court with has been taken to jail? What do I
          do? Can I see him? Where are they taking him?

          Usually the parent is held in custody for some time prior to transportation to
          the Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth.
          Transportation times from the courthouse to the Bristol County Jail and
          House of Correction in North Dartmouth can vary, but usually occur around
          3:00 p.m. Because the parent is in custody, visits are not permitted.
          However, the individual in custody may be provided access to a telephone to
          try to obtain the purge amount set by the judge.

    Paternity information:
    34.   What is paternity?

          Paternity means legal fatherhood. If you and your child’s other parent are
          not married to each other, you can establish paternity by:

                Signing a paternity acknowledgement form in the hospital at the time
                 of the child’s birth, at the city or town clerk’s office in the community




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                where the child was born, or at the Registry of Vital Records and
                 Statistics (RVRS) in Boston (Dorchester), or

                Asking a court to establish paternity.

          Without paternity establishment, your child will have no legal father.

    35.   What is a paternity test?

          Paternity tests are used to determine whether a man is the biological father
          of the child. In some cases, DOR will order the biological mother, the man
          who may be the father, and the child to have paternity tests prior to
          scheduling a court hearing. In other cases, a judge may order the tests as
          part of the court action. These tests are generally quick, easy, and painless.
          After reviewing the test results and any other relevant information, the judge
          will decide whether or not the man is the father of the child. If the judge
          enters an order that the man is the child’s legal father, this will establish
          paternity for the child and the father’s name will go on the child’s birth
          certificate.

          A judge may establish paternity of a child without paternity tests. If the man
          named as the father does not appear in court, the judge may consider
          evidence other than paternity tests, such as the mother’s testimony, to
          establish paternity. Also, paternity testing may be completed even if the
          mother is not available.

          At any time during the court process, the parties can sign a written
          stipulation agreeing that the man is the father of the child, and there will no
          longer be a need for the judge to determine paternity. The judge will then
          incorporate that agreement into the order/judgment of the court. If the test
          results are positive, the judge will determine that the man is the biological
          father of the child.

    36.   How is a paternity test done?

          Paternity tests are done by rubbing a cotton swab on the cheeks inside the
          mouth. This is called a “buccal swab” test. No blood is taken. The mother,
          the child and the man who may be the father will all be tested. The tissue
          samples (from the cotton swab) will be compared to see what special
          characteristics – known as “genetic markers” – the child shares with the
          mother and the man who may be the father. In certain circumstances, the
          testing can also be done just on the child and the man who may be the
          father, even if the mother cannot be tested.

          These tests are extremely accurate in showing whether or not a man is the
          biological father of a child.




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    37.   How will I know when I am scheduled for paternity testing?

          DOR will send you a letter when you are scheduled for paternity testing. The
          letter will let you know where you need to go for testing. You may also be
          tested on the day of your hearing if the court orders you to do so.

          If the other parent lives in another state, DOR or the court may order the
          paternity tests. If the court orders the tests, you will not be asked to take a
          paternity test on the day of your hearing. You will receive a letter a short
          time later letting you know that you have an appointment for paternity
          testing at a nearby laboratory or at the same courthouse where the hearing
          was scheduled.

    38.   Do I need to bring anything with me when I am scheduled for a
          paternity test?

          Adults must bring 2 forms of official identification (one form must include a
          photo, e.g., driver’s license, passport, etc.) before testing can begin. For
          children, you must bring the birth certificate and Social Security card for each
          child being tested.

    39.   Who pays for the tests?

          If the tests show that the man is the child’s biological father, he may be
          required to pay for the tests. If the tests show that he is not the father and
          DOR is providing services to the family, then DOR pays the costs.

    40.   When will I know the results of the paternity test?

          Test results will be mailed to you 6 - 8 weeks after specimens are taken from
          all parties. Therefore, it is very important that you give us your correct
          mailing address before leaving the courthouse. DO NOT call DOR for test
          results.

    41.   Why do I need a paternity test if I know that I am the father?

          Paternity must be established in cases where your name is not on the birth
          certificate or if the child was born before April 13, 1994, even if your name is
          on the birth certificate.

    42.   Why does it take so long to get a blood test when I have given you
          all the information about the other parent?

          In some cases, DOR will order paternity testing. In other cases, the court
          must order paternity testing when a parent denies paternity and requests a




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          paternity test. For this to happen, DOR must schedule a hearing date with
          the court that gives the parties the required notice period before the hearing.
          Once the court orders tests, DOR must obtain a test date with the company
          doing the testing, and then schedule a return date with the court that
          accommodates the time needed to complete the tests.

    43.   Why do you need to know to whom I was married? He’s not my
          baby’s father.

          The law requires notice to the husband in matters of paternity when the birth
          of the child coincides with the period of marriage, as the husband is
          presumed to be the legal father unless it is shown otherwise.

    44.   What is a “presumed” father?

          The law considers the husband to be the “presumed” legal father to any child
          born during the time of the marriage, and the law extends this presumption
          of paternity for a period of 9 months beyond the final order of divorce. The
          law also considers a man to be the presumed father (1) if he agreed to
          support the child under a written voluntary promise, or (2) took the child into
          his home and acted as if the child was his child; or (3) if the child was born
          before April 13, 1994, and he is named as the child’s father on the birth
          certificate.




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